A letter from Capt. Norman A. Barrett of the 6th Ohio Cavalry was published in the Western Reserve Chronicle 150 years ago today on Dec. 3, 1862. Before joining the 6th Cavalry, Capt. Barrett was superintendent of the Newton Falls Union Schools.
November 28, 1862
It is the close of a dull dreary Sabbath, with the 6th O.V.C. Our camp situated on the western edge of a tract of woodland, exposes us to the fury of the wind which comes howling down from the Blue Ridge as though it were in league with Stuart, or Stonewall, to drive us from the state.
Since I last wrote we have been ranging far and wide through this section of the State. After lying in camp at Centerville till we began to despair of ever moving again, an advance movement was made. We took the lead down the Orange and Alexandria R. R. driving the rebel pickets and patrols, and scouting and picketing on the front and flanks, day and night. Thus passed the time till we received an order from General D. E. Sickles, under whose command we were, complimenting us for our vigilance and daring, and expressing a desire that we should have a short time rest, and truly we needed it. For seven days and nights we had been almost constantly in the saddle, and many of us had slept none at all for three consecutive nights. Just as we were about to go into camp congratulating ourselves of the prospect of a good night's rest, up came General Franz Sigel's Body Guard, fresh horses and fresh men, with an order to accompany them on an expedition we knew not where. There was no alternative - "Ours not reason why."
We went - but there were curses loud and deep. All night long we sped away through the pine forests of eastern Virginia. The night was black as Erebus, its darkness relieved only by falling snow which whitened the narrow fields over which we occasionally passed.
Toward morning we learned that our destination was Fredericksburg. We intended to reach it by daylight, but through the drunkenness, or incompetency of our guide, we did not reach our destination till two hours later.
We found the tide up and the water five feet deep on the usual ford. We were ordered back from the river to await the falling of the tide, but the guide discovered a narrow and difficult passage higher up. Supposing that there were but sixty of the enemy across the river, the body guard slipped off privately, taking with them some ten of our men who had been left to guard the ford, and made a dash into town. Soon a party of them came back reporting that the enemy were six hundred strong, and that the body guard had been all killed or taken prisoners.
They advised us to leave if we wished to avoid capture, and three or four of them, including the lieutenant and Surgeon ingloriously skedaddled, reaching camp a day before us, and reporting that we were all taken.
Though we numbered but sixty men, Major Stedman refused to withdraw, hoping to save some who might yet straggle off and escape. Soon we had the satisfaction of seeing our friends return and covering their retreat across the river. They had had a desperate encounter. The enemy were some four or five hundred strong, but not daunted by their numbers, our boys charged and drove in all directions. They captured some thirty or forty prisoners, and two carts laden with uniform cloth for the rebel army.
Our loss was one killed, and three or four prisoners, but we left eight or ten dead rebels in the streets of the city.
When the body guard came back, we learned for the first time that orders had been sent for us to cross and assist them. It may have been so, but certain it is that no one could be found who had brought any such message.
I notice that a one-sided account of the affair has been published in the New York Tribune, and that some blame is thrown upon the 6th, for neglecting to obey orders. Had any such order reached us or any intimation that we were wanted, we would not have been slow in hastening to the rescue.
The truth of the matter is that the Guard expected to find a small force to oppose them, and finding more that they bargained for, they sought to escape censure for their rashness and to set their bravery in a stronger light by claiming that we refused to assist them. They did a gallant deed, but their injustice lowered them much in our estimation.
Since then we have been scouting along the eastern base of the Blue Ridge and Bull Run Mountains, and we are now with General Sigel near Centerville, waiting to defend Washington, should the rebels venture to make an attack in the absence of our main army.
Compiled by members of the CW150 Committee of Warren's Sutliff Museum.